Streamlining to K.I.S.S.

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Before I get to today’s post, I’d like to share a few pieces of ephemera. I wrote a piece about dealing with rejection for Red Sofa Literary; I hope you find it useful! Second, I have recently discovered the wonders of wireless headphones, which I can connect to my phone. I wound up getting the Mpow 059 wireless headphones in red, and damn. I mean day-am! I can take them on the road and use them while writing in a house of coffee, or I can wander around my pad listening to music without carrying my phone. I’m so into this!

So, today I want to talk about Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a mantra I apply when I’m overloaded and ready to go. I had a few friends point out that it’s challenging to do this when you’ve been hit with the flu (as I have), and there’s only so many brain spinny wheels to go around. I’m of the mind that physical and emotional health definitely contributes to your productivity, and if you’re unable to make changes it’s because you’ve got more going on than you realize.

The K.I.S.S. system I use is basically a method of prioritization to shape how I use my time. When I know I have a lot to do, then I make listicles (my new and current favorite word) of everything I have to get done: house, personal, work. Then, I prioritize based on what’s important and reduce distractions. Basically, I make a concerted effort to say: “Look, all these little items on my list. The 1,000 things that get in the way of me doing the work. I’m going to cut all that shit out to finish items 1, 2, 3.”

Mind you, you can take this methodology to a different plane of existence. You could: plan your meals in advance, your social schedule for the week, your clothes for the next day. By removing micro-decisions, you’ll clear your brain space to help you focus on what you need to on a macro level. Then, you can figure out the details and adjust from there. Sometimes, your ability to do that greatly depends upon your personality and connections you have to the people around you. That doesn’t mean you’re “doing it wrong”, and I side eye OneTrueWayisms that say otherwise.

Lastly, one thing to consider is that you may be utilizing too many planners, listicles, word count meters, etc. and that is getting in the way of finishing your projects. Over-planning can be a form of procrastination (Say it ain’t so!), because you’re using that as a motivational tool. Think of it this way: every time you write down what you should be doing, you are taking a snapshot of your frozen progress. You know exactly where you are in your work, and that list encapsulates that. If you make more lists, you’re not making any progress. You’re simply reviewing your static position from a different angle. If you find yourself buried by apps, to-do lists, etc. then consider streamlining your process to help you get more use out of the tools.

That’s all the time I have for today. Happy writing!

Mood: I want Christmas cookies. Nay, I need them. Need!
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I lost count, if only because I didn’t think the caffeine I drank was impacting my system in any way, shape, or form.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I shuffled and shambled like a zombie rising from the mists of Avalon.
In My Ears: Jack Pack 2 album
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: I forgot the title! It’s so far away from me right now… On the table… In the kitchen… *grunts*
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Beauty and the Beast live action. It was something.
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Week 46 MANW Check-In: Where The “No, I Can’t!” Comes From

Make Art Not War Challenge November

This week’s check-in is brought to you by the makers of tissues, cold medicine, and the professional lung hacker’s association. (Of which, I am apparently a member.) Today, I want to write about the reasons why we talk ourselves down, and where those voices come from. Hint: social pressures are complex, often wrapped up in mores and cultural aspects, but there is something we can point to. How we, as human beings, are depicted in media matters, because we internalize stories as informative truths.

When youth and beauty are glamorized, deep down we begin to wonder. “Am I too old?” “Did I start writing/painting/singing too late?” We constantly see young people represented in movies and television shows, but we also notice them in advertisements, magazines, etc. Representation is a powerful force, because in our minds we still capture those images or depictions as information that we consciously and subconsciously process. The insidious questions arising from our manufactured self-doubt leads to jealousy or even spite. “Everyone younger than me is getting hired, so why bother?” “There’s too much competition. I’ll never measure up.”

In your head, you know that age is just a number. You have to feel it in your heart. You are not too young, too old, too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, etc. etc. etc. The list of what you’re not is so long, if you believe every word you’ve mentally racked up, then you’ve already convinced yourself you can’t. If you believe that, deep down, then you’ll wind up procrastinating and sabotage your efforts.

I know it’s hard. That negativity something we all deal with, and it’s exacerbated if you aren’t seeking or getting the support you need. It can be challenging, too, with our 24-hour news cycle. This isn’t about what negativity you can handle; it’s the death by a thousand cuts. The things that happen in your day-to-day life on top of bad news on top of those niggly voices in your ear… It all adds up.

I don’t know the specifics of your personal situation, of course, but what I’m trying to point out here is that sometimes self-directed negativity is a big off-page factor that can affect your productivity. Unfortunately, sometimes the reason why you’re saying “No”, is because you’ve programmed yourself to think that way. If you find yourself talking yourself down, try to make a mental note of that. Or, flip the script and do exactly the opposite. It may feel uncomfortable, even fake. But those mental images and cues are so important. If you believe you can do a thing, you’re more likely to actually do it.

Mood: Coughing has a purpose. Right?
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Um… Tea? Coffee? Coffee-tea?
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some light walking again. Still trying to kick this cold.
In My Ears: The Killers “When You Were Young”
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: More works hit.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Sing
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Making Art During a Political Hellscape

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge Participant Badge

If you are struggling to make art, you are not alone. You are not imagining the world seems to be on fire, either, and if you need confirmation of that I suggest you start by reading The Weekly List. Changes are sweeping through at a frightening pace, and just this past weekend thousands marched in Poland to the tune of nationalism and deadly rhetoric. Hate, even pedophilia, is presented as “acceptable” by some for political reasons so their “side” wins. A “side”, as if being a decent human being was important regardless of which “side” you’re on.

This is not politics as usual. I’m guessing deep down you know that, and not just because the communities you frequent have changed. Engagement is all over the map; some people are glued to the news, wondering when the next disaster will strike. Others are abandoning networks in favor of local communities. If you know what’s happening, it’s because you understand the consequences of those blaring headlines. Good people are getting hurt right now. Maybe someone you love. Maybe even yourself. And it hurts. It makes you angry, sad, concerned. Wondering what you can do; wondering if what you are able to do will be enough. Wondering if you’ll be next.

Political hellscapes are something a lot of artists struggle with, and this year is no exception. Toxic stereotypes are still (incredibly) entrenched in our social zeitgeist that affect artists. It’s the idea that we (e.g. artists) don’t matter, because our work is a luxury item rather than a necessity. Worse: we must suffer in order to make good art, and if we’re not starving we haven’t paid our dues. Never mind the fact that the billion-dollar entertainment industry is comprised of publishers, game manufacturers, studios, etc. Never mind that there’s no “one” path for artists to follow. Some are hobbyists and never intend to sell. Others are professional artists whose livelihood is dependent upon what they produce and sell. And, of course, the hundreds of artists who fall in somewhere in between.

Being an artist can also be a big part of your identity. The word “artist” evokes a stereotype which is further refined by the type of art you make. Writer. Sculptor. Painter. Musician. Yes, there are many artists who can and have mastered different disciplines, but that is not how we are judged. Art, after all, is something you do for fun. It’s not a real job. It’s not as important as putting out fires or saving lives or governing. Often, artists feel powerless in a sea of hate-filled rhetoric and change, because we often passively influence change as opposed to actively. Suddenly, everything we do is deemed “political” whether it is or not, and we’re not sure if writing heroes who fight monsters is as important as dealing with the real ones.

Art will always be political, because art is made by human beings, and human beings are always political. Art has the power to influence, convince, dissuade, etc. because it is often designed to evoke a specific emotion for a reason. As time passes, we may not feel the same impact of a piece’s original or subliminal intent. Hell, we may not recognize or even notice the originating political influences on older books, movies, games, etc. but they are there, whether they be intentionally inserted or not(1). The stronger the rhetoric, the stronger its effects will have on us and our art, because we cannot ignore what’s happening all around us. And, if we ignore politics, that is often an intentional choice–one that not everyone has the luxury of making.

What we feel and what we think are crucial to making art, because our mental health and emotional well-being matters(2). We are not robots. Artists are human beings who tap into the deep reserve of who we are to facilitate laughter, tears, terror, rage, etc. We might tell ourselves that we are entertainers (certainly I have done that myself as a coping mechanism on occasion), but at the end of the day we utilize different tools to relay an aspect (e.g. truth we know) of the human experience through various mediums. And, when we suffer, our art can also suffer–but not always. Sometimes, we establish coping mechanisms to ensure we keep making art, or reasons why we can’t afford (financially, emotionally, etc.) to stop or slow our production. Other times, the art we make is our coping mechanisms, our means of escaping all the shit that’s around us, to depict a beautiful, even hopeful, future.

I don’t have a magic wand that I can wave and resolve those deep, messy feelings you’re experiencing right now. To keep making art, however, means that you have to do what you did in the past. To be an artist, means you have to find the time to make art. To do that, you have to put yourself first, and that can be a very complex and often painful thing to do. It feels selfish, right? Only, if you want to donate your time/money to make a difference, it’s harder to do that when you’re not doing well. So, the best way to help other people is to ensure that you’re okay first. Then, when you’re strong enough, then help somebody else. And, if you need help: ask. Otherwise, you’re scattering your resources so broadly that you’ll feel as if you’re not making a difference. I’ve been there myself, and it was a difficult lesson to learn.

Yes, as always, your mileage will vary, and I do feel that you know what’s best for you and your situation. However, the sharpened truth is that you can always find a reason not to make art. Politics is one (or a hundred) reasons, but there are so many more. To find the will to produce, look for the reasons why you want–no need–to make art. Sometimes, that basic motivation can be the lifeline you need to keep at it. Find that and remind yourself why you need to make art and why the world needs your vision. No, I can’t guarantee that your work will be popular or will be wildly successful–no one can. What I can do, however, is tell you that if you call yourself an artist, it’s because that is who you are. And that, dear reader, is reason enough to keep at it. You’re worth it.

(1) The Twilight Zone, The Blob, and The Crucible are all great examples of this.

(2) This was something I realized the hard way this past year. 2017: the year of shitty life lessons.

Mood: Change is in the wind
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Vini, vici, espresso.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some light walking. Trying to kick this cold.
In My Ears: Game of Thrones Season One soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Work shit
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

MANW Check-In Week 45: Why Finishing a Thing Can Be Hard

Last week I announced that FINISH was November’s theme. And, as I type this, I have a few projects I need to get off my plate this week. Part of that is due to con crud, but I am just as guilty of not finishing projects sometimes. It does happen and I have to own those times when I don’t. Sometimes, it’s because a project is on spec or doesn’t pay a lot. Other times, it feels like nothing I do goes right. That doesn’t excuse me being late or not finishing a thing. I have to own that, and I know it, too.

So, what happens? Why are some projects easier to finish than others? What I’ve found, is that lagging projects comes down to four buckets or categories of Shit That Can Go WrongTM:

  • motivation (or vested interest) – Why are you making the thing you’re making? Money? Creative itch? Self-fulfillment?
  • logistics – How capable are you of making the thing? Time, space, skill, etc.?
  • personality conflicts/communication issues – Do you get along with the people involved in your thing? Or are there issues?
  • mental health/physical concerns – Are you physically okay? Mentally? Emotionally?

Okay, let’s put this into practice. Say you were laid off from your day job. That impacts your schedule (time to write) and financial outlook (money you get from writing). It can also affect your mental health and motivation, too. Doesn’t sound like you? This is where the conversation gets complicated: your mileage will vary widely, because you are the best person to identify why you haven’t finished a thing. Sometimes, your ability to utilize insight comes from having a little distance between you, your day-to-day life/experiences, and the work. The time to think, in and of itself, is a luxury that not everyone shares. The busier you get, whether that’s due to the holidays or the work-life balance or the thousand things that fill up your day, the harder it is to analyze what’s going on with “you”.

I’ll use myself as an example to highlight the unique aspects of my current situation. For me, as a full-time writer, if one project slides it’s not a big deal. But, if I lose time due to travel, etc. that’s when it’s bad because I have to re-prioritize what’s on my plate. Unfortunately, my work in the game development/writing sphere has become increasingly harder because of two things: one, training/working with new folks does take time and that will always be the case and two, the harassment and vitriol originating from being active in certain online spaces (needed to remain visible and network with people) have unknowingly caused a lot of emotional labor on my part. I also did not fully understand what it meant to be triggered, and now (thanks to our political trashfires) I do.

That, right there, is what slowed me down on top of the regular day-to-day issues of stalled payments and dropped balls that were outside of my control. I eventually realized the danger of prioritizing social media, blogging, or watching the news over getting words down. Words matter and words often tap into our emotions in wild and wacky ways. Now, I’m literally three “The Ends” away from being totally caught up (YAY!), and I’ve been sick the past few days (BOO!). That’s not something I’m proud/happy of at all. Yes, I’ve been online, but appearances can be misleading, in part because I use social media as a tool for inspiration. To motivate myself, I’ve found (unfortunately) that I need the happiness that comes from shared joy. To get that, I have to find it and it is harder to do that in this climate.

Why are you not finishing your stuff? The reasons can vary widely. Maybe you bit off more than you can chew. That happens a lot. Maybe you’re depressed because the world is on fire. Maybe you’re not sure you know how to finish it and you’re afraid to ask. Or, maybe you have a vision of that finished thing in your head and the draft isn’t measuring up. Whatever the reason, I trust that you know what that is. That’s step one. Step two is finding ways to address the problem. If, for example, you’re worried about the end result and you haven’t finished your first draft? Give yourself permission to suck. That’s what first drafts are for!

I hope something in this post has sparked an idea or a new path that will allow you to troubleshoot your situation. Please keep at it! I shall do the same. I want, more than anything, to be fully caught up by Monday. I’ve already planned how I’ll celebrate: pumpkin spice cupcakes for the win! Sometimes, the smallest rewards can really help motivate you as well. Keep on keepin’ on!

Mood: Hellbent and determined
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee is life.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I walked in freezing temps. Not smart. Thought I was fully recovered and collapsed in Ny-Quil
In My Ears: Lord Lardbottom is snoring. Loudly.
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Work shit
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

MANW Check-In Week 44: NaNoWriMo Tips and New November Theme

Pleased to announce today’s theme is FINISH! Whether you’re starting out on a new project or using this month to play catch up, the goal for this month’s Make Art Not War Challenge theme is to finish what you start.

Whether you’re new to writing or not, self-doubt can creep into your mind, and you freeze. You either go back to edit that first paragraph, over and over again, until you get it “just right” — or you never finish that story. Sometimes, self-doubt occurs because you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. That’s normal. That happens. And, sometimes, tackling a big project is necessary to grow and show you where you’re at.

Your strength lies in what you do next. Do you lash out? Biting back at your critics? Or, do you suck it up and ask for help? I can’t tell you where you are in your process; no one can unless they’re reading your work and with you during your journey. What I can tell you, is that sometimes there is a lot of value in finishing what you start. If you can’t finish the big thing, try breaking off your project into smaller chunks. Finish those, and chug away until you’ve completed it.

Finishing your projects doesn’t mean that they won’t require more work; what it does mean, however, is that you’ve cycled through that first, crucial step to making art. That, dear readers, is what November is all about.

Time to check in and see how I did last week.

Weekly Check-in

My Original Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

Here’s my current status:

  • I announced Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist, and I also (courtesy of a friend) received some adult coloring materials, too. I’ve got this down!
  • Couple of days were a little rough. I’ve been adjusting to the seasonal shifts, and walking outside has been helping a lot.
  • Instead of logging my time, I’ve been logging my words with an app. When I remember to use it, it seems like it’s a better solution to what I had been doing.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017 You’re looking at another post, right now! Hee.
  • I’m good re: social media. Got a kick out of all the Halloween-related updates.

On to some tips for NaNoWriMo!

10 NaNoWriMo Tips and Tricks

50,000 words in a month seems daunting, and it definitely can be. There are two parts to NaNoWriMo: a) hitting 50,000 words in a month and b) tracking that on “a” project. I realize you might use NaNoWriMo to finish multiple projects and that’s cool. That’s definitely a different set of processes than focusing on one, larger work.

To start and finish NaNoWriMo, here are some tips!

1.) Summarize your plot. Helps keep the story on track.
2.) Sketch out an outline and characters ahead of time. Focus on the sagging middle!
3.) Add a motivational saying or goal to your writing space. A sticky note on a laptop or notebook works fine, too. Like: “You got this!”
4.) Use a word tracker that recalculates your goals. The website has one, but you could always look for apps or spreadsheet templates, too.
5.) Do a little bit of writing in the morning if you can. That way, if your day goes to shit, you’ve at least gotten some words down.
6.) Adding something new (e.g. a writing goal), means you’ll need to let something go. Whether that’s watching less TV or not, actively make a plan to reduce something else in your life.
7.) It’s okay to not like a scene or a paragraph you’ve just written. Your goal, here, is to hit the target in a specific period of time. Mark what you want to come back to later instead of deleting or rewriting it up front.
8.) Write your story before you sell it. You don’t have to share every piece of what you’re working on, nor do you have to work on a cover letter right now. Write your story, first!
9.) Use a pen-and-paper journal to track additional ideas that come out of your sessions or writing breaks. You won’t necessarily be on the computer to be inspired.
10.) Above all: have fun and enjoy the ride! The best part about this month, is that it’s designed to help you hit your goal of 50,000 words. It’s all about the discipline of plunking them down. Do that, and you’ve already “won” NaNoWriMo. Even the best books are revised multiple times, but you can’t perfect a draft you haven’t written yet. So go! Go! Go!

I am not participating this year for various reasons, and wish everyone good luck!

Mood: Feel Like I’m on the right track.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Can’t remember. I was withdrawing some yesterday, but fixed that.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking a few kilometers. Cold, yo.
In My Ears: Stranger Things 2 Soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go – Halloween Event!
Book Last Read: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Stranger Things 2
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

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